Eschewing both stage and microphones, artist Kevin Maguire held an informal and informational WonderCon 2015 question and answer session filled with straight talk to fans and sharing his plans for the future.
Recalling his comic book break-in story, Maguire, employed at a video store at the time, had sent some samples to Marvel but a considerable amount of time went without response. During this period he got a lot of rejections, including one from Denny O’Neill. After an all-nighter at the video store with a group of friends, watching everything they wanted, his friends demanded that he go knocking on doors and demanding notice. The next morning, as he groggily tried to sleep, John Romita, Jr. called and Maguire was on his way to work in the Marvel Bullpen.
“They hired people they thought had promise, doing art corrections,” Maguire said. He was there three or four months before getting hired to work on a regular book.
A fan asked about how many pages Maguire can draw per day. “Zero,” he replied flatly. “Unless it’s Moon Knight in a blizzard. I remember one day, I actually did one, start to finish. I’m wildly ADD — I’ll have something I’m coloring on the Cintiq, I’ll have three pieces of artwork I’m working on. Nothing really gets done in a day.”
Maguire said a full issue can take 6-8 weeks, when he’s inking his own work. “I never liked having someone ink me,” Maguire said. “The published work was never my work; it was someone’s impression of my work.” Years ago, someone suggested Maguire scan his pencil artwork because his pencils were so tight. “Do I get paid the inker rate?” Maguire asked. The answer was yes, so he “never looked back.”
“For the last decade, I feel I’ve been wasting my career,” Maguire admitted. “I’ve only done three complete stories in the last 10 years. I’ve been turning down everything in the last year, I just wanted to focus on a creator-owned thing. I don’t want to do any more split books.” Maguire was ready to turn down recent “Justice League” work, but thought he’d get a chance to draw the “trinity” characters of Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman. When he got the script, the regular team was in the six pages of the script Maguire wasn’t drawing. “It’s close to doing that team, but not exactly,” Maguire said. “The classic Justice League has always been like Lucy and the football for me. I still don’t know what it would be like to do them, but I’ve done an assload of Metron.”
Asked about his departure from “Justice League 3000,” Maguire admitted that the situation puzzled him, still. “I honestly don’t know what happened there. I’d finished the first issue and started laying out the second, and I got an email from a second editor, ‘We still want to work with you…’ I’m like, ‘What’s going on?’ They said they wanted a different direction. I never completely found out why. It’s humiliating to be fired from a book. It’s a unique humiliation to be fired from a [Keith] Giffen/[J.M.] DeMatteis ‘Justice League’ book. One of the editors, we were at a Christmas party and he was drunk, he asked me if I could do covers and I said, ‘No.'”
Three ladies were sitting in the front row, listening, but also looking at their phones. At the end of his JL3K story, they got up and left. Maguire turned to the man who’d asked the question, declaring, “You made me look like a loser in front of the ladies!”
Asked if there was anything he hadn’t had a chance to draw at Marvel that still interested him, Maguire answered, “I’d like the Avengers, because I love the movie. Other than that, not really. I always liked the Fantastic Four.” He’s supposed to be doing a “Guardians Team-Up” story, but said it’s stalled because “Bendis has sent four pages of script in four months.” Maguire noted that since he now lived in Portland, he could just try to find Bendis.
Maguire, addressing a question about his distinctive use of facial expressions, said pointed to one influence in particular. “If I had to say one name, it would be Chuck Jones,” he said. “It just feels natural. I do improv one night a week; it’s always about getting into the heads of characters. I don’t look into a mirror — I’m not a particularly pretty man. If I’m working at Starbucks, you will find me making the face I’m drawing. It’s really just instinct, what does it feel like, what’s going on in that moment.”
He revealed he doesn’t use reference for faces, drawing from his own imagination and craft, though he hinted that he may change his approach. “I should. I feel like I’m getting kind of incestuous, cannibalizing myself. I use reference for figures to get the anatomy right. I want to be good.”
Asked how he came to draw a comic book written by comedians Seth Meyers and Bill Heder, Maguire recalled, “We met at a bar, after improv. One night, Seth Meyers was having a birthday. Natalie Portman, Will Arnett — all these ‘Saturday Night Live’ people there. All my other actor friends had already gone to introduce themselves to him. I’d had a few, and he was walking by, I said, ‘Happy birthday, man.’ He asked me if I was an actor like everybody else and I said, ‘No, I draw comic books.’ He asked me what my name was and he was like, ‘No way! You’re my favorite artist!’ He had just gotten a book of my work.” Maguire drew a drunken napkin version of Blue Beetle, which led to them becoming friends. The next year, Maguire drew a more professional depiction of Ted Kord in costume which remains Meyers’ Twitter icon today.
“More people have seen my work as his Twitter avatar than anything else I’ve ever done,” Maguire mused. “Him and Bendis. He got asked to do a Spider-Man book, however it worked out with Marvel. They asked me to do the cover. I had nothing else lined up, so I asked who was gonna do the book. They asked if I would like to, and I said, ‘Yeah.’ They released ‘The Short Halloween’ in June. They couldn’t wait five months…”
“It depends on who I’m working with,” Maguire replied when asked how involved he gets with scripting. “Some just give me the script and I draw it, like Giffen and DeMatteis. Other people, like Fabian Nicieza, we work together on stuff, we plot together. We have an interesting working relationship. ‘Captain America’ we plotted together. He’d come to my apartment and put these big sheets of paper on my wall — issue one, issue two — which is how I got plotting credit on the last issue. ‘X-Men Forever’ he wanted to try his hand at laying out. Those are not my layouts. We did ‘Created Equal’ together, none of us were happy with that. We wanted to have Oprah as the president and they said, ‘No. We would get sued.'”
Maguire said he had even been roommates with Nicieza for a year before they tackled their “Batman Confidential” story featuring Batgirl and Catwoman. “It was gonna be three issues. We expanded it. Fabian would write the plot, and after two or three pages, I’d be like, ‘Nah, I’m just gonna completely change this.'” One proposed sequence had Catwoman on the roof of a train with Batgirl using a grappling hook, wakeboarding alongside the train. “It was ridiculous, and I didn’t want to draw it.” Maguire also balked at having a naked fight between the two characters in a nudist club, so he added elements of one-upmanship to make the conflict make more sense. “The process varies with each writer,” Maguire stated. “If I have input, I am difficult to work with, because I’m anal about things. My preference is just to write all my own stuff.”
As he admitted earlier, Maguire prefers to ink himself whenever possible. And if that’s not in the cards, he has a very strong preference as to who should finish his pencils. “Karl Story,” he said without hesitation when asked. “Every page I handed in to Karl Story came out looking better.”
Maguire also admitted to struggling with his own perfectionism. “It takes a little bit of my soul when I hand in a page I’m not happy with, and that’s, like, every time. It gets harder when they hand me a cover to sign, and I’m like, ‘I finished that in a day.’
“Now I’m working on a creator-owned thing and I’m taking my sweet time on it,” Maguire continued, explaining why his current project has him pretty content. “When it’s out there, I want to be completely happy with it, because of that permanence. Right now, there is no publisher. I’m doing the first issue on my own. Conventions are paying my bills while it gives me time to work on the creator-owned thing. I’m thinking about doing the first six issues digitally.”
“Here’s what I’m shooting for,” he continued. “It all takes place in a superhero universe. By the end of the sixth issue, I will have introduced 100 characters. 18 pages, first and last page is a list of biographies. 16 pages in middle are eight double-page spreads, a comedy sketch between 2-3 people who live in this world. Last line of one scene is first line of next scene. It’ll be like a sketch show. Stuff like that, unrelated to each other, it’s gonna be fun. I’m funny, I hope. I’m gonna take my time and get it right. Each one is its own individual thing. When I’m done with those, I’ll have my entire world to play with. I have plans on how to expand the characters. If it works, this is what I’ll be spending the sunset years of my career. I’ve had notes for 20 years; if I don’t do it now, it’s never gonna get done. We’ll see — fingers crossed.”
Looking back on the books that made him a big name in comics, Maguire said he left the “Justice League” books because he felt two years was “enough.” “I was eager to try something else. ‘Justice League’ was my first book.” He noted that he had the chance to do “Silver Surfer” at the exact same time, and thought he could do both at the same time. He quickly had to choose, and the rest was history. “Keith came up with the plots, DeMatteis would write the words. It was a Lennon and McCartney thing — and I was Ringo.”
He is amazed to see the work’s lasting impact, even today, noting teenagers dressed as Booster Gold and Blue Beetle who couldn’t have been alive when the book was out. “I’m extremely lucky to have been part of something people responded to. There’s a lot of artists far better than me — Garcia Lopez, off the top of my head — who didn’t do a book where people responded to it that way. I peaked on my first book, I’m Orson Welles. I feel very fortunate. Garcia Lopez just hasn’t found the book to distinguish. Brian Bolland did ‘Killing Joke.’ Sometimes, that one thing carries you on.”
That said, it’s hard for him to think of a favorite — or least favorite — work he’s done. “I’ve never been able to think of an answer, because every book has panels that I love or panels that drive me crazy. Everything I do, I look back and say, ‘Aw, man, that could have been better.’ I look back and see mistakes, that’s all I do. I wanna say, ‘I’m completely satisfied,’ and I never am. I’d like to know that myself.”
He did admit that he hates “characters [where] you can’t see their eyes. I like to see character’s eyes. Iron Man would be a nightmare. Anything that’s body armor. Most fun to draw is Guy Gardner, just because he’s such a character. Of course, my gal, Tonga.”
Despite his ability to critique all of his work, there are some original pieces of art he won’t part with. “The first issue of ‘Strike Back.’ My cover to ‘Adventure of Captain America’ is missing, and that’s disturbing.” The cover art disappeared during his cross-continental move, and he warned people who might see it that it would be stolen property if discovered.
A fan wondered about differences between the “Big Two” publishers, with Maguire saying, “Both companies have been evolving. Marvel was like ‘Animal House.’ It was a lot of fun there. It has started to become more corporate. It’s difficult for me to work at DC because of the process now — there’s a gauntlet of approvals for any costume change. Used to be the editor said, ‘Yeah, that’s good,’ or you’d know where the feedback came from. For me, I’m becoming more misanthropic, I just wanna do what I wanna do. I don’t fit as well into the sort of corporate monthly structure as some people. I need to be me.”
“I don’t know what they’re doing up there,” Maguire said about redesigns of iconic characters like Superman and Wonder Woman. “I’m all for creative evolution. Who wears the same clothes every day? Guys are pointing to other guys. I have no problem with them changing it up every once in a while. My favorite is the classic Superman, underwear on the outside. Now they said his costume was a reflection of his Kryptonian heritage, it’s a nod to his past. I like that.”
Asked about humor and whimsy in his work, Maguire said, “No matter what I do, there’s gonna be a humorous tone to it. That’s how I roll. I prefer humorous stuff, hopefully with some gravitas to it. When they’re in the field, they’re like a baseball team. When they’re in a locker room, it’s joking around, it’s camaraderie. Makes the next time they go into the dramatic situation — you care about the situation. That’s why I like a decent amount of humor.”
Maguire was asked about the recent controversy over Rafael Albuquerque’s “Killer Joke”-themed “Batgirl” variant cover, saying, “I’m fine with them taking that cover down because it didn’t match the tone of the book. I understand some people were upset with that cover, but it was a variant. If no one said a word about that, no one would have thought twice about it. Since they pulled it, I see that image all over. That image is more burned into people[‘s minds]. Who would have remembered it? Can you picture another Joker variant cover as well?”
A fan drew parallels between the misfits of the big screen version of “Guardians of the Galaxy” and many of the “Justice League” adventures Maguire drew. “I remember the last scene of ‘The Avengers,’ with the schwarma, I thought, ‘That’s so JLI.’ I could absolutely see that in one of our books. Marvel gets it. If anyone follows me on Twitter, you know my feelings about this. I think Marvel’s been hitting it out of the park, movie-wise. It seems like people who are making Marvel movies genuinely love the characters growing up. DC, people like Nolan, seem like they want to elevate the characters above the genre. I’ll probably see Batman beating up Superman. I’m thinking about buying a ticket to another movie and seeing it.”
He appreciated the diner scene in “Superman 2,” even though a “god” was beating up a mortal because an earlier scene made us feel for the hero and dislike the bully. He related a more current story, watching “The Man of Steel,” where he turned to his date during the battle in Smallville and said, “I don’t care about these characters.”
Asked if he would lke to write and draw a “Great Lake Avengers,” Maguire replied, “They already have. That’s when we ended up doing ‘The Defenders.’ There was talk of Starjammers at one point. That might be something to play with. I was like, ‘Are we gonna get every third rate team?’ We got the Hulk laid. I score that as a victory.”
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